It isn’t enough to cut federal spending anymore, so one piece of good news about the new 114th Congress is the body’s growing bipartisan recognition that economic and regulatory liberalization matter for economic rebound.
The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 (RAA) was introduced last week by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN.). That makes it bipartisan. It got 19 Democratic votes when it passed Congress before. On the Senate side of things, there are presumably 15 Democratic senators with whom the Republicans can work on some elements of liberalization.
The RAA could hit the House floor this week.
Obama pounced on RAA with a threatened veto, making this his fourth (at least) counting Keystone, executive immigration reforms, and defining a 40-hour work week with respect to Obamcare. It’s the fifth veto threat if one counts his promise in past Congresses to repudiate the so-called REINS Act requiring congressional approval for the costliest agency rules.
Modifying the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the RAA would enhance, codify and make enforceable elements of executive orders on regulatory reform that have been in play since Ronald Reagan. For example RAA would:
- Enhance regulatory impact analysis and cost benefit analysis;
- Expand public comment opportunities;
- limit agency overuse of difficult-to-challenge “interim final rules”;
- Encourage selection of least costly rule options;
- Bringing “guidance documents” under scrutiny paralleling actual rules (these are one of today’s many forms of “regulatory dark matter”).
For the fattest of the fat rules, those costing over a billion annually, something called “hybrid” rulemaking would apply, whereby the standard (but inadequate) APA notice and comment process would be supplemented with formal hearings and proceedings.
The White House burst forth Monday: ”If the President were presented with the Regulatory Accountability Act, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” (Emphasis in original.)
In other words, you are to comply with unnecessary regulations no matter what, but regulators should not themselves be troubled with so-called “unnecessary procedural requirements” such as democracy and constitutionality.
The White House fury brought to my mind the paradox that–in the flurry of all the executive orders and pen-and-phone actions to expand the State–Obama has actually issued four executive orders to ostensibly reform the regulatory process. Some provisions are reminiscent of what’s in the RAA.
This is the Twilight Zone moment when Obama presumably would to veto his own Executive Orders if they were bills.
President Obama’s own E.O. 13565 on review and reform (“Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review”) was a pledge to roll back misguided rules. A few billion dollars in savings were initially achieved, with Obama wisecracking in the 2013 State of the Union Address about a rule designating spilled milk an “oil.” Such trivialities are not the source of regulatory excess; the few billions cut via executive order have been swamped by rules otherwise issued.
Still, four of Obama’s executive orders address regulatory relief. The others are E.O. 13579 (Regulation and Independent Regulatory Agencies), asking independent agencies to review their rules like executive agencies; 13609 (Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation); and 13610 (Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens). All are at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg_regmatters#eo13610.
It’s lost to the mists, but upon entering office, President Obama’s chief of staff even announced a regulatory freeze as part of a first 100 days initiative.
This turnabout cannot go unremarked in this week’s House debate over RAA. To reduce the burdens on job creators, it’s time to regulate the state, and Obama needs to get with that program. Instead, Obama, Josh Ernest and the team are saying they don’t want any of these and other longstanding ideas to be enforceable.
Alongside other reform ideas, the RAA’s emphasis on accountability highlights the democracy that progressives claim to favor. Do they think elected legislators should be in control, or do they think unelected bureaucrats should make law unimpeded? So let Obama issue his veto. Are other Democrats willing to go to the mat for the Regulatory State like him?
Maybe, maybe not. One thing we can say about the “year of the veto” is that it will place each elected representative on record as either in favor of or opposed to some of the costliest and most controversial regulations pouring out of agencies each year, and efforts to reform them.
In a jobless recovery era, dismissing regulatory overreach in reform-bill votes and in veto-override votes may be toxic.
Obama calls Republicans obstructionist, but apart from certain statements on tax and trade has not articulated where he would shift his position to align with the GOP majorities in both houses of Congress.
The president has made his second term all about the pen and phone and executive orders. Now he can spend a couple years explaining why ideas he claims to share, even champion, shouldn’t be enforceable.